Comfort from the Doctrine of Providence
BY : Duane Smets
Sometimes the challenges of life seem to come in waves among those we know and love. Heart attacks, blood poison, miscarriages, sickness...suffering, illness, disease and death are a fact of life that no amount of medicine and good diet can protect us from.
We are not promised a life of ease free from these types of tragedies. Jesus himself said in reference to suffering and death, ""In this world you will have trouble (Jn 16:33)."Peter similarly writes, ""Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you (1 Pet 4:12).”
But that doesn't take away the physical pain and the emotional trauma of actually walking through the valley of suffering. In the midst of suffering, the call of the Scriptures upon God's people is to minister to one another with tears. Romans 12:15 "Weep with those who weep.”
If one does not know or have confidence in the doctrine of providence, then the hour of their suffering is not the time to teach them but to cry with them. However, knowing suffering is promised, we do well to prepare ourselves ahead of time for our own hour of suffering. For this, it is my conviction that the doctrine of God's providence in all things is one of the most comforting truths of the Bible.
WHAT IS THE DOCTRINE OF PROVIDENCE?
Providence comes from the Latin, providentia and is God's power over all things wherein he orders them according to his wisdom all for his good purposes. Simply put, God causes ALL THINGS. Scripture is littered with affirmations of God's providence.
1 Chronicles 29:11-12 "O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might.”
Job 42:1-2 “Job answered the Lord and said: I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”
Isaiah 45:7 "I form light and create darkness, I make well being and create evil, I am the LORD who does all these things.”
Acts 17:26 "He (God) made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.”
REJECTING DIVINE PROVIDENCE?
Some, who claim to be Christians, heretical open theists (such as Gregory Boyd, Clark Pinnock and John Sanders etc.) are deeply grieved at the evil and pain of suffering and cannot conceive that a good God would allow his children to experience such turmoil. So instead of being comforting they see the doctrine of divine providence as intensely infuriating.
However, rejecting divine providence in reaction to the pain of suffering is actually much more of an eastern idea than a Christian one. In eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism etc.), the road out of suffering is by detaching yourself from it and imagining you are not uniquely suffering but instead are simply one with the world, which does not suffer but merely cycles and balances.
DIVINE PROVIDENCE AND THE GOSPEL
The unique thing about the gospel is it takes suffering seriously. The gospel says our suffering is real, is not the way life was originally created to be, and that God entered into our suffering to do something about it.
At the very first church service the gospel was preached. Acts 2:23-24 "Jesus, (was) delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, [you] crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death."
Notice three things:
1. God providentially had Jesus killed.
2. God raised up Jesus from the dead.
3. The result is the ""pangs"" of death get loosed.
What does it mean that the pangs of death get loosed? The word in the Greek for pang is "odeen" and is intolerable anguish. It's a good word to describe the beliefs of nihilism (belief in nothing) or annihilationism (belief in no afterlife) because then death is the ultimate end with nothing following and it is purposeless and meaningless. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we have the hope, the promise, and the guarantee that death is not meaningless and that God did something to put an end to all suffering once and for all.
So the pang is taken away because the anguish gets replaced with anticipation. We who believe in Jesus will be raised like Jesus.
COMFORT NOT CHAOS
To say God has no control over suffering and evil does not offer comfort to anyone because then the world is spinning out of control and God cannot do anything about it. God is then weak, powerless, and definitely not worthy of worship. It's like he wished he could do something but something or someone greater than him has limited and constrained him. No comfort can be found by turning to such a God.
To say God has all control over all suffering is to say that God has a greater and better purpose ahead for us that can only be seen as such by us going through the bitter valleys of pain and sorrow. God then can be a refuge and a help in time of need because he does not have his hands tied behind his back but is seated on the throne and by his great wisdom has our best in mind and is carrying that out. Comfort is found because in turning to God our grief is turned into something meaningful because God cares and has a purpose in it.
THE PURPOSE OF PROVIDENCE
What is God's Purpose? Romans 8:18 tells us, "The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” If we did not see glimpses of the darkness of hell God's glory would not look very bright. Suffering allows us to peer into the despair God has protected us from by delivering up and then raising up his son.
Romans 8 continues to expound on this future glory by telling us that believers in Jesus are being made like him, ""conformed into his image (8:29)"" and will be raised up like him (8:23). The beauty of the providence of the gospel is we do not have a God who has not suffered but suffered intensely for us so that we might one day no longer suffer.
My hope and my prayer is that you might be convinced of the doctrine of God's providence and rather than buck against it you would embrace it so that in your hour of suffering you like a tree in an intense storm might bend from the blow but not break. Don't entertain foolish notions of weak reason which overmagnify man's free will and conceive of catastrophes as accidents. Instead recognize God's will which overrides and determines all things so that there are no accidents, only divine actions.
My hope and my prayer is to set you up so that when you suffer you would not throw rocks at God and his goodness but rather stand upon God as your rock. In the hour of suffering, lean on the doctrine of God's providence for your comfort...no other arms can hold you like it can. Remember Jesus suffered intensely. God is fully aware and knows exactly what you feel. Put your hope in him, so that like Jesus you might be able to endure the cross and despise its shame (Heb 12:2).
By God's grace may he enable us to worship when worship is most difficult. May he enable us to do like Job did, to fall down on our face in worship crying, "The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD (Job 1:20-21)."